Do collagen supplements work? Absolutely. They will soften wrinkles and make your skin smoother - and help your joints, too. I used to be hugely sceptical about collagen supplements, but became a convert a few years ago.
Collagen drinks and collagen powders are one of those newish arrivals on the beauty scene that look like so much snake oil: "Drink this potion and you will look more lovely!". While there are some snake oils out there, the brands which contain enough of the right sort of collagen can make a measurable difference to your skin, and several have even conducted clinical trials to demonstrate the improvements their products can make.
What do collagen supplements contain?
The new collagen drinks contain ‘hydrolysed’ collagen — that is, collagen that has been broken up into tiny fragments. What I couldn’t understand at first was why consuming collagen supplements would do you more good than eating lots of lean protein, which is also broken down into protein/collagen fragments in your stomach. But then I learned that providing the body with a ready supply of hydrolysed collagen has two effects. First, it encourages the body to use this collagen for repair where repair is needed. And second, by some curious internal alchemy, when our bodies detect a lot of these hydrolysed collagen fragments in the blood, it presumes there has been some trauma to the skin that is needing repair, so it starts to make more collagen of its own.
How much collagen do you need to take?
The hydrolysed collagen in these supplements is usually marine collagen, from, say, the skin of freshwater fish; sometimes it is bovine collagen, from cow hides.
In order to make a difference, trials have found that you need to consume somewhere between 3,000mg and 10,000mg a day of this hydrolysed collagen.
Lots of supplements offer this — including Totally Derma, Absolute Collagen, Pure Gold Collagen, Skinade, Pink Cloud Beauty, Rejuvenated Collagen Shots, Zenii and Ingenious Beauty, and a newcomer called Aethern which is even more expensive than the others but has very impressive data from clinical trials. The other consideration, to get technical for a sec, is the molecular size of the hydrolysed collagen — because the smaller its molecules are, the better they will be absorbed by the body. Molecular size (or, more accurately, molecular weight) is measured in units called daltons, with larger molecules being measured in kilodaltons (kDa) — thousands of daltons.
Several of the supplements mentioned above have a molecular size of 2 or 3 kilodaltons, and some brands boast clinical studies showing how well their products work.
If you are familiar with the world of beauty supplements, you might be wondering whether Imedeen should be on this list. It’s not, just because its key ingredient is a patented ‘marine complex’ that contains fish extract including collagen, but it isn’t totally collagen-focussed like these other supplements. But it also improves the skin measurably; the company has a good deal of data on its website detailing all the studies they have conducted to prove this. Imedeen also had ‘Advanced Beauty Shots’ which offer 2,500mg of hydrolysed porcine collagen – ie not as much collagen as the other supplements, though it should be enough to show some skin smoothing over time, and it is derived from pigs, which won’t suit everyone.
Which collagen supplement do I take?
The one I take is Totally Derma, which comes as a powder that you mix up into a vanilla-flavoured drink. I like the fact that clinical studies conducted using the product have found that it improves skin hydration and elasticity, as well as softening wrinkles.
These supplements are not cheap and, depending on which you choose, will add up to £100 a month to your skincare bill. If that’s within your budget, they are worth considering, in order to firm up your beauty-from-the-inside-out strategy.
But don't take too much!
Don’t go over the top and take more than the recommended dose of collagen supplements. While doses of up to 10,000mg a day have been shown to be effective, it is thought that taking too much collagen could have a negative effect on collagen building, though the chaps who are working on the studies for this can’t yet say how much is too much. Just so you know.